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Austen Sherman

Austen Sherman is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and is also currently working toward a degree in Economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business. He has interned at the Arizona Republic Business section and will resume there this summer while working at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. He is traveling to China this summer for an international business journalism course and has been put in charge of the blog for the overseas program.

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Regret the (business) error to be regular on Reynolds Center

Craig Silverman's Regret the Business ErrorCraig Silverman brings his wit and wisdom about journalistic errors to BusinessJournalism.org starting Sept. 3. 

The editor of Regret the Error, Silverman will write an every-other-week column focusing on common errors in business journalism and tricks to avoid them. 

Silverman has an overwhelming amount of experience in media, beginning his studies at Concordia University in Montreal in 1995. 

He is currently the managing editor of PBS MediaShift and Idea Lab, the Digital Journalism Director of OpenFile.ca, the editor of Regret the Error (which brought him a book deal), a columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review, and he has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. 

Craig Silverman Regret the Error

Craig Silverman, Regret the Error

 

Silverman’s column will be running every other Friday, beginning Sept. 3.  He will take a look at errors being made in business journalism. He’ll reach out to experienced business reporters who can provide some actionable advice. And he hopes to share tips that will prevent reporters from falling into common traps. 

Silverman recently took time to answer a few questions: 

Q: You’re best known for “Regret the Error,” how did the site come about and what does it offer its readers? 

A: It was 2004 and I was freelancing.  I read a lot of media blogs, like Romenesko, and was really amazing at what was going on as far as online journalism.  It seemed like a good idea to have one of my own.  I knew I wanted it to be media focused.  When you are taught journalism accuracy is always taught as the most important thing we do, there are tons of blogs about ethics but few about corrections and accuracy.  It turns out errors can be both amusing and instructive.  It launched that Fall and had over 10,000 viewers in the first day. 

Q: What can journalists do to help avoid making errors? 

A: There are a couple fundamental things that people can do to be more accurate.  One of the things I encourage people to do is figure out what mistakes they are making, self-diagnose and make an error log to monitor your mistakes.  (Be sure to document both those that go to print and those that are caught by the copy desk).  It is difficult to improve when you don’t know where you’re your mistakes are.  The single most effective way is to use a checklist, whenever I say that I get people groaning and rolling their eyes.  It isn’t the most advanced piece of technology.  I have one for free that people can download from my site.  It is a place that while you work you have a place to write notes to yourself. 

Q: Is business journalism more prone to error than other types of journalism?  Is accuracy more important? 

A: When you are talking about business journalism, I don’t know if I would say it’s more important.  In business it can have a large impact.  There have been many reports that caused stock prices to fall or cost a company business.  There are often complicated numbers when it comes to earnings and SEC filings, those are all areas that are specific to business journalism.  Business journalists have to deal with numbers, not only correctly reporting that number but they have to actually be able to interpret them and make sense.  Anytime that journalists get a hold of numbers there are often errors.  Really the most common error according to research is a misspelled name or incorrect title.  In business you obviously deal with company names and titles.  A number of places where journalists go wrong is prevalent business reporting.  I don’t know if they are necessarily more error prone, but we generally make the same types of errors no matter what our beat or focus is. 

Q: What do you like most about working with innovative groups such as PBS MediaShift and IdeaLab? 

A: For me this is a really amazing and exciting point in journalism.  To be able to write and edit for these programs gives me a front row seat to some amazing ideas.  We are seeing some of the older organizations deal with significant challenges, while seeing the emergence of new types of organizations.  There are not for profits, hybrid business models, and new content companies.  I don’t pretend to know exactly what is going to happen, but I do think that the most important and interesting brands are being created right now.  Some of them are old organizations reinventing themselves and others are brand new, I think these will dominate the next 25-50 years of media.  This time reminds me of the old “penny papers.”  Before the newspaper was for the upper class, all of a sudden you had this new inexpensive paper that created a larger circulation and really started “mass media.”  There is a lot that is new and there are some that relate to what has happened in journalism’s past. 

Q: Tell us a little about OpenFile.ca. 

A: OpenFile is a fairly new collaborative news website for Canada, I am a part of the team that started the project.  It currently covers Toronto, but we are looking to expand.  There are a lot of local news organizations that are suffering who are struggling to provide as good of coverage as they used to.  Many of these community papers have no reporters and are simply re-writing press releases.  We wanted to do something that brings a level of community reporting back to Canada.  Anyone can come to the site and “open a file.”  They basically say, “Hey, I’m wondering about…”  We take these ideas and assign a pro journalist to investigate and report.  Once it is published we encourage people from the community to add their own photos and information, it enables people to be a part of it.  We launched the beta site in May and will be launching an almost complete redesign in September.  It isn’t truly “investigative” in the traditional sense as we are basically investigating suggestions and questions people have.  All the stories are geo-tagged so as the site grows users will be able to enter their zip code and see what is going on around them in their neighborhood.  It is an exciting experience to be a part of one of these new online organizations that are emerging.

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A quick chat with John Daley on covering the environment and other big stories


John Daley listens to a presentation during the "Covering the Green Economy" seminar in Phoenix

John Daley reports for KSL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, and has covered everything from mine disasters to the Elizabeth Smart case.

He specializes in political, investigative and environmental reporting and was both a Knight Journalism Fellow and a Western Enterprise Reporting Fellow at Stanford University.

He was also a fellow during the Reynolds Center’s “Covering the Green Economy” seminar in June.

Daley began covering the environment in 1992 when he started working as broadcast journalist.  Since then, he’s worked the general assignment beat while continuing to develop a speciality in environmental reporting.

“Since growing up climbing mountains, hiking and skiing in Colorado, I’ve always had a profound interest in reporting on the natural world and our relationship with it,” he said.

While Daley said he hopes environmental pages will eventually find their way back in to major media outlets, he isn’t sure if the current business model can support a stand-alone section. He’s certain, however, that environmental issues will increasingly “dominate our world.”

When it comes to his overall journalism career, Daley said he’s motivated by uncovering important stories and informing the public  He is currently investigating a story about a board member for the local transit authority in Salt Lake who might have used his position to personally profit.  The story has been unfolding for about two years and Daley said it has the potential to become a significant public-service piece.

One of Daley’s biggest accomplishments was the publication of his essay “Zephyr to Zion.” The essay appeared in a book about climate change in the Rocky Mountains titled, “How the West Was Warmed: Responding to Climate Change in the Rockies.” Daley said the essay was a revelation because it gave him an opportunity to write in an unfamiliar way.

“The essay form is a big change from writing two minute stories for TV news,” he said.  “It was a challenge, but very satisfying.”

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SB 1070 heats up Arizona business coverage

azcentral.com immigration slideshow

Photos by Nick Oza /The Arizona Republic

As the summer heats up in Arizona the debate over the controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, has kept pace.

Federal district court judge  Susan Bolton has until July 29 to make the decision on whether or not the bill is constitutional.  If the bill holds up it will take affect at 12:01 a.m. on July 29.

Bolton’s decision certainly has a much greater impact than the news stories it generates, but the issue certainly is the driving force this week behind coverage for Arizona publications.  The controversy extends to each and every section of coverage.  It has provided a unique opportunity for me this week.

The experience I have had over at The Arizona Republic has been priceless.  I have had the opportunity to cover a number of stories, two of which landed on the front page, which focused on the recovery of the Phoenix economy and the economic impact of losing Tempe Town Lake.  However, as with the majority of day-to-day business coverage my work is done at a desk that receives more than a few phone calls.

However, this week with the expectation of the SB 1070 going into effect, I get to hit the streets to find out exactly how quickly and how dramatically it may impact the Arizona workforce and economy.  While my assignment is only a small share of the extensive coverage that the business section is looking to provide, it is exciting nonetheless.

I will be spending the mornings this week looking at different locations throughout the Valley that generally have day laborers waiting for potential work.  I will be returning to those same locations Thursday morning if the law takes affect to see what the immediate impact is on these workers who are possibly illegal immigrants in the state.

Whether you agree or disagree with the position the judge eventually takes, the impact of her decision will be HUGE.

As we move into an economic recovery, the impact this could have on the state in terms of production, workforce, boycotts, etc. is potentially very damaging.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Be sure to check out azcentral.com throughout the week for evolving coverage on one of the biggest stories of the year.

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Erik Ortiz on getting down the basics of covering business

Erik Ortiz has covered business for the Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey for about three years. It’s a beat that has him diving into stories about the state’s economy, labor, tourism and the gaming industry.

Ortiz was also a fellow during our “Covering the Green Economy” seminar. He chatted with us about his experiences covering the business beat and his thoughts on China’s growing role in the world’s economy.

What aspect of business coverage are you most interested in?

“Energy and unions – two vastly different areas of the business beat, which is probably why I like them. I think energy and the implications of how we procure it will continue to have a huge impact on society and the global economy. It affects everyone because most of use electricity and drive. On the other hand, while not everyone deals with unions, they are collectively a powerful group, and as a reporter, there’s so much to uncover. It never gets stale.”

What’s your greatest accomplishment so far as a business journalist?

“I still have a lot to accomplish, but any day I can get a private business owner to reveal their finances is an accomplishment.”

Does covering the business beat require a special set of skills?

As journalists I think our mindset is to parachute into any story, whether it’s breaking news about a shooting or the local college announcing a new president or a company laying off hundreds of workers. So I don’t think to cover business well you need to have a degree in economics or accounting, you just have to bring that same set of skills you would use to cover any beat to business. But it takes a lot of understanding about how companies operate and the financial aspects of a business to make a business story stand out.”

What will be China’s impact on the world economy as it continue to grow?

“What China does and says will continue to have great implications on the global economy. China’s recent announcement to allow its currency to appreciate and its exchange rate to become more flexible is expected to help bring stability in the global market and increase household incomes in China. Most extraordinary to me has been the growth in Chinese buying power and the possibility of a middle class lifestyle. More foreign companies will certainly want a part of the Chinese consumer market if the value of the currency rises. I remember reading a story about an Ikea in China where people just went to take pictures but didn’t really buy anything. Maybe soon they will.”

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Asher Price shares the inside scoop on the environmental beat

Asher Price writes for his newspaper's green blog, "Salsa Verde"

Asher Price covers the environmental beat for the Austin American-Statesman. He talked to us about the challenges and rewards of reporting on one of the hottest topics around.

How did you get your start on the environmental beat?

“I had been a general assignment reporter at the Austin American-Statesman for a couple of years. It was good, interesting work, but I found myself skating from story to story. I was looking for a beat to develop depth to my reporting, and the environmental beat happened to have opened up at the time.”

Why is it important to have a reporter assigned to the environmental beat in a newsroom?

“It makes for interesting and sometimes important stories – profiles about what crazy things people are doing to get off the grid or stories that explain the intersection of money and politics and energy. By having an environmental beat, the paper is showing that it is serious about engaging in complex issues.

“The environmental beat is especially significant in Austin, which sits by a large underground aquifer and by a region that has numerous endangered species. On an everyday level, environmental issues affect all of us – in terms of air and water quality, say – and our readers are interested in these issues.

With the oil industry so large in Texas, how is the BP spill impacting your coverage?

“In an odd way, the BP oil spill feels a little distant from Austin. Our city is at least a three-hour drive to the Gulf, and then it’s the wrong part of the Gulf from the spill. We’ve been grappling with how to write about it. I’ve written about the state’s spending and response historically to spills in Texas waters.

Asher Price, an environmental reporter for the Austin American-Statesman

How have you seen environmental reporting change as the topic becomes more mainstream?

I’ve had the environmental beat for four years, and in that time it hasn’t changed much, frankly. It’s possible it’s gotten more attention — especially when the price of oil spiked a couple of years ago — but my sense is that by the beginning of this decade it was already a hot topic.”

What do you hope readers take away from your stories?

“Mostly I hope they’ll be engaged a little more on a topic and see a little more nuance to it. So much information we get is bifurcated into good/bad or yes/no, often promulgated by advocacy groups of one stripe or another. On political stories, I hope they understand there’s invariably a relationship between money, power and policy, and on lighter stories I hope they’re entertained.”

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Patrick O’Grady chats about covering the business of the environment

Solar panels at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability by Kevin Dooley

Patrick O’Grady has been a reporter in Arizona for nearly 15 years and currently works for the Phoenix Business Journal covering technology, sustainability and manufacturing.  He has recently won awards for his coverage of the solar industry in Arizona.

We spoke with him about his reporting on the green economy and asked his advice for reporters looking to add environmental stories to the biz beat.

What is most exciting  part of  covering the green economy?

“There are too many things from which to choose. It’s a growing sector of the economy, and it’s so diverse and there are tons of new technologies springing up to deal with environmental issues. One day is covering green building, the next solar, and a third working on a new energy system. There’s never a dull moment.”

Should Arizona be playing a bigger role in the development of solar technology?  Is it truly a viable replacement to current methods?

“Yes, Arizona should be playing a bigger role in solar technology development. Arizona came to the party late and is just getting its feet under it in terms of development of the technology. The focus here is primarily on manufacturing and not research and development, with a goal of moving more manufacturing in as well as spurring solar installation as a replacement career for construction. ASU and UofA, however, have several active fields of solar technology development, from concentrated photovoltaics to solar collecting dyes that can be used on fabrics and generate enough electricity to perhaps power an iPod or a laptop.

As far as solar being viable, it depends on what power source you want to replace. Right now, solar could replace natural gas as a peak power source, but it’s still a few years out on replacing base load power sources such as nuclear and coal. The technologies exist to expand solar power beyond when the sun is out, it just needs to be implemented on a large scale. The challenge at this point is somewhat technical, but much more financial in nature as well as having a number of regulatory hurdles.”

What advice do you have for reporters looking to incorporate environmental coverage on the biz beat?

“Environmental concerns are weaving their way more into business. Companies are looking at their carbon footprint and the life cycle of their products, not just in a cradle-to-grave scenario but from cradle to cradle, how those products break down and can be used again.

Patrick O'Grady

Always be skeptical of their claims. Businesses are looking for any way they can to spin their company as green, and in today’s economy they are looking to grab the green niche as a marketing tool. And like any story, watch the money. In Arizona, the stimulus funding has been a boon for the energy-efficiency industry, but so many new people are jumping into the business that it could lead to problems down the line. The same thing is happening in home solar installations as well.”

What is the importance of having an environmental reporter on staff now compared to 10 or 15 years ago?

“The level of environmental awareness is continuing to grow and has either reached the level of tipping point with the mainstream public or is about to. There also are many issues that can be covered from an environmental perspective. Building new freeways, for example, can lead to discussions of clean air and land use issues, as well as the potential of other green transportation methods. Particularly in urban areas, the issues of water, land and sky are becoming increasingly important in the quality of life factor that many businesses use as a determining factor of where they are going to locate and many people use for the same reason.

“There also is a tremendous amount of federal money flowing to green projects that likely will be a springboard for even the non-mainstream ones to become more widely recognized.”

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Confidence in journalism biz comes with a little uncertainty

SABEW Society American Business Editors Writers

SABEW’s Warren Watson says that while confidence is growing in the business journalism industry, uncertainty continues to linger.  In  his most recent article on SABEW.org, Watson gives journalists a little more to think about, making sure that optimism doesn’t overcome reality.

A recent study released by the Reynolds Center suggests that the confidence is there amongst journalists throughout the nation, it is even referenced in the article.

Watson also takes a look Gannett, who is expanding their business coverage in a number of publications across the country.

However, he makes sure to focus on the fact that while the recovery process is moving along, it is moving slowly.  Advertising is growing, but revenues are still below pre-recession levels despite often beating projected goals.

A large portion of the uncertainty comes from the questions still surrounding media’s move to the Internet.  A move that Drew Davis, the president of the American Press Institute, compares to the gas lamp industry in Watson’s article.

No matter if you are more confident or uncertain, Watson believes we are all left scratching our heads…

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Financial Times planning new online service

This past weekend, there was some Twitter chatter about Pearson PLC, the owner of the Financial Times creating a new service that will be a spin-off from the main FT.com site. The tweet, which was retweeted by several British journalists, invited applications for the new site, fttilt.com.

According to the site FT Tilt is a new service that will be launching sometime later this year.  It is being developed by the same team that created the award winning financial blog, FT Alphaville.  The new service will be directed towards a “specialist audience of finance professionals,” while providing lively “news and analysis.”

The site currently has little else as far as way of explanation, simply saying “This is a start-up venture under the FT’s umbrella. As such it offers frontline experience in developing a new digital media service from scratch.”

Paidcontent.org said that when FT was contacted for further information they would not add much more detail.  Only that they will “probably have something to say at the end of the year.”

Applicants are being directed to inquire at jobs@fttilt.com.  The site has positions both pertaining to writers and editors, and user interface engineers.

Alphaville is a part of FT.com that is update throughout the day.  Features include a blog and live market discussion.  A section known as “The Long Room” offer a more in-depth analysis, while “The Cut” provides daily headlines from New York, London, and Hong Kong.  It is currently outside of the Financial Times paid access model.

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Got hold of a good story? Book it!

Craig Pittman Book It!

Craig Pittman shares tips on turning a beat into a book. Photo by Robin J. Phillips

Craig Pittman from the St. Petersburg Times came back for the final presentation during lunch.  Pittman is the author of two books, Paving Paradise and Manatee Insanity. Both books originated from a story that he was working on, making him an ideal person to help teach how to turn story ideas in to a book!

This presentation was full of tips and suggestions on how the creation of a book generally works, from start to finish.  Needless to say it is not the easiest thing to do, as about 190,000 books are published every year in the United States.  However, Pittman was sure to encourage everyone as there are millions of readers waiting, and just one reader’s praise can make it worthwhile.  Below is a summary of his notes and tips for everyone who is interested!

Based on a true story:

  1. Be sure to save all of your notes.
  2. Include all the details you had to leave out of your story.
  3. Build a timeline.
  4. Look for “scenes” as you gather your notes.

New tools for research:

  1. In the old days research was limited to microfilm and library stacks.
  2. Today Google News Archive and Google Books are two great places to start.

Tackling a big job:

  1. Break it in to smaller jobs.
  2. Outline the book in to jobs, then outline each chapter.
  3. Think of each chapter as  story and start plugging away.

Sweat the details:

  1. When writing non-fiction this is particularly important.
  2. Proof your text, preferably with more than one set of eyes.
  3. Footnotes – remember there are a number of different styles.
  4. Remember you have to do the index.
  5. Be sure to get permission for any photos, maps, song lyrics, etc.

Marketing (or what Pittman called “the necessary evil”)

  1. Don’t count on newspaper reviews.
  2. Look to TV and radio who are looking for guests.
  3. Contact book stores, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  4. Make use of the internet (create a website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon)

Obviously each author will run in to issues of their own along the way, but these tips are a great start for anyone who is looking to turn a headline in to a story book ending.